It’s said that children are our future. This statement holds true in so many aspects of life, including hockey. Before generational players like Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and now Connor McDavid donned NHL apparel, they got their start as young children playing on rinks and frozen ponds all across Canada. The progression from youngster with a dream to NHL superstar might not occur for all, however, it’s important nonetheless to provide all aspiring children the opportunity to play the ‘Greatest Game on Ice’.
Enter Defending the Blue Line
For some children, the chance to lace up the skates and hit the ice may not be quite as attainable as others. One such group is children in a military family. In this day and age, times can be difficult when a family member is active in the armed forces. Responsibilities are shifted therefore limiting certain opportunities that may have otherwise been easily achieved. Defending the Blue Line (DTBL) is an organization that works to ensure that these children have every chance to enjoy the game of hockey. Considering that DTBL only has two full-time and one part-time employee, their reach and positive influence on the game and these military families is incredible.
— United Heroes League (@United_HL) October 6, 2015
With donations from groups such as the NHLPA Goals and Dreams Foundation, DTBL has been able to hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars in major name brand hockey equipment to thousands of children aged four and above. The beauty of the donation is that when the child outgrows the equipment, it is returned so that another military kid can benefit as long as the integrity of the product is still intact.
Another opportunity that DTBL affords military children is the ability to attend hockey games across the country free of charge. Whether college or the pros, various partners have graciously donated the tickets so that these kids can watch some of their idols in person. While most NHL teams are responsive to this cause, those who have risen to the occasion the most have been the Ducks, Wild, Penguins, Kings, Bruins, Islanders, Capitals, Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Predators, Stars and Sharks. Most notably, San Jose defenseman Brent Burns personally donates a private suite for every Sharks home game during the season.
Who we are… https://t.co/VOtoULIQiu
— United Heroes League (@United_HL) October 3, 2015
Grants and Hockey Camps
Ask any hockey parent and they will tell you that the costs associated with playing the game are exorbitant. Equipment aside, most league fees are equivalent to multiple months worth of rent and groceries. For military families on a fixed income, these costs may preclude them from allowing their kids to play. As a way of thanking these brave men and women for their contributions to protecting our very freedom, DTBL has handed out over $300,000 in grants to offset the costs associated with registration.
Additionally, the organization has sent thousands of kids to a multitude of hockey camps free of charge. Some camps are general and focus on the game as a whole while others are specific towards a certain aspect of the game such as skating or positional play.
— United Heroes League (@United_HL) August 24, 2015
DTBL does adhere to certain eligibility requirements when dishing out donations and various other well-deserved opportunities. Besides considering the military rank of the family, status is used to determine the order in which children are selected. The listing is as follows:
- Children of military members killed in action
- Children of Purple Heart recipients
- Children of those currently on deployment
- Children of those currently serving (can be reserves)
- Children of military veterans
In total, DTBL has given out MILLIONS of dollars in equipment, tickets, grants and hockey programs all across Canada and the United States. With over 10,000 families touched thus far, it is one of the largest charity organization in hockey.
Taylor, a military child from West Fargo, North Dakota summed it up best when offering his gratitude to the organization.
“Hi my name is Taylor and I wanted to thank you for helping me play hockey. Its been an amazing season learning more about hockey and more about myself. This game is not just a game its also teaching me life skills. Thanks for making it happen. I’ll never forget the people who helped me.”
Taylor hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that hockey is not just a game. It’s an escape, a way of life, and a light at the end of the tunnel for those who see it as such.
Taylor cares. Defending the Blue Line cares. Hockey Cares.
Zach Hopkins is a life-long hockey fan from the suburbs of Philadelphia. Aside from studying, watching and playing the game, he can be found teaching it to his four-year-old son who can now name all 30 teams and their best players and can differentiate between all 30 goal horns. At The Hockey Writers, Zach is a Philadelphia Flyers contributor.